Although a lot of people think that power training is reserved for athletes trying to perform at their peak, adults also need to train for power. In our context, power (force over time) is essentially training to be more athletic. An athletic person is able to respond to and absorb fast moving forces more effectively. Being more athletic helps prevent injuries from trips, falls, overuse, and other unpredictable circumstances that occur in life. It’s important for all adults in order to maintain their functional capacity as they age. For adults who are physically active outside of the gym, it’s even more important. Think about runners, skiers, and volleyball players who need to stay healthy to keep doing what they love.
When adults hear me talk about power training, a lot of them have a scared look on their eyes like I’m going to make them jump up onto a 40” box, or do some crazy Olympic lift. Obviously, this is far from the truth. With proper programming, progression, and attention to each individual, adults can train for power and athleticism safely and effectively.
Phase one of power training for adults starts with exercises that are low impact. With low impact exercises, we can eliminate common limitations from the ankles, feet, calves, and shins. For all of these exercises, we don’t start at max effort, we progress to it. Just about any power training can not begin until we’re proficient in basic strength training movements. You’ll see how a lot of these mimic a squat or deadlift. For all exercises, maintaining the integrity of this foundation is essential. We don’t want our body moving around in every which way. Maintain good posture throughout, even as it gets harder.
Bike sprint – This is the simplest power exercise that just about everybody can do. We start at lower intensities for short times and progress in both intensity and length. For adults who don’t do the dynamic warm-up, the bike is usually how we warm-up (after foam rolling and stretching). We rarely go over 30 seconds of all out sprinting on the bike. After 30 seconds, or even 20 seconds, quality and speed drop drastically.
Battle rope slam – This one is a great intro into power exercises that require more technique but are still low impact. It’s okay to start off slow and then work up to slamming the ropes and making it as loud as you can. Keep the core locked in and back flat just like you would for a deadlift.
Kettlebell swings – Like a deadlift, think of this as a hip hinge and not a squat. One cue that helps with this is reaching the kettlebell behind you in the bottom position. From here, simply stand up, squeezing your butt. Then let the kettlebell fall back down in a natural arc, and repeat. As you get better at it, try to stand tall as quickly as you can.
Push presses – These are a little higher impact, but the feet usually still won’t leave the ground. The biggest mistake with these is allowing the knees to come too far forward when loading up. Instead, think about coming into a quarter squat, and driving through your hips as you pop up. This is also a great variation of regular presses, and gets away from the monotonous routine of dumbbell presses.
Phase 2 – Phase two power training contains exercises that mimic sport and everyday movement. Now, more durability and the ability to transfer and absorb force are required.
A skips – a simple skip motion that is progressed from a march. Further progressions include power skip thirds, power skips, and lateral A skips.
High knees – We always do these as a warm-up, but I don’t care how high the knees get. It’s an easy one to overdue, so just focus on being light on your toes and keeping good running posture.
Sled pushes – Again, focus on keeping good running posture, except now with weight. As with the bike, keep it under 30 seconds. A great regression to sled pushes is a sled march, where each step is methodical and controlled.
Phase 3 – Jumping and landing with emphasis on soft landings. This phase is where we can really make our athletes durable. Learning to land softly and absorb force with good form in the gym will help them do it in any athletic situation. The main point on all of these is to start and land in an athletic position with the hips low. Teaching them to jump and land in this manner minimizes stress on the joints, and will transfer to their other activities. Start with a jump and then progress to bounds, hops, and loaded jumps
- Jump with stick – Jump and land on two feet.
- Bound with stick – Jump on one foot and land on the opposite foot.
- Hop with stick – Jump on one foot and land on the same foot,
- Loaded jumps with stick
Bad exercises – These may sound good, but practically speaking they’re dumb. For all of these the risks outweigh the rewards.
- Box jumps – In one on one personal training, I’m okay with this because I can see it all and I’m aware of the athlete’s level and box height. But in a class, the chances of someone banging their shin and going down hard is just too high. Especially if you do more than five reps. But don’t even risk less than five. Even for kids, put the boxes away for all but 1 on 1 and small groups. Risk > Reward.
- Olympic lifts – Adults rarely have the wrist mobility, and as they’re not competitive athletes, there’s really no need to teach them. Stick with other methods like rope slams, which is basically the same movement pattern.
- Continuous jumps and bounds (plyometrics) – Again, I’m okay with this in with a one-on-one client who has progressed to it and has reason for doing them, but in groups, the risk of someone pulling their calf or spraining their ankle is too high.
- Burpees – I’m drinking the anti-burpee kool aid. Sure, they get your heart rate up, but not as well as bike sprint or any interval training protocol would. There are better alternatives, so don’t even bother.
I can’t emphasize enough that the most important part of all of this is safety. There’s no need to do any of these. Power training is important, but if controlled strength training and cardio is where you’re at, then that’s fine. You never have to progress and you never have to do any of these. Hate kettlebell swings? Don’t do them. It’s challenge by choice.
Lastly, I will steal a great analogy from Ben Bruno. He says that strength training is the entree, and cardio is the side dish. To me, power training is another side dish. So, it’s an important piece, maybe the sweet potato or the rice pilaf, but you can get away without it.